by Paola Cesarini
Sporting a less-than-flattering mushroom haircut and pretty much the same drub outfit through season one, Hakan initially comes across as a young-ish, disheveled, not-too bright, totally ordinary person. This is in sharp contrast to Çağatay’s previous stylish, larger-than-life impersonations -- such as Bariş in Delibal or Sarp in Içerde. Nevertheless, within a few short episodes, Çağatay gradually transforms Hakan from a boisterous, frumpy, irascible, insecure and somewhat unattractive outgrown teenager into a comparatively controlled, introspective, sensitive and self-confident young man. Moreover, he accomplishes this almost exclusively through body language and the visual emotions he displays, since Hakan has relatively little to play with in terms of meaningful, self-revealing lines.
And yet, with each episode, this character grows on you. At the end of season one, Hakan becomes a more attractive and emotionally compelling creature than when we first met him. Because the first installment of "The Protector" ends with a cliffhanger, Hakan's journey is clearly incomplete. It will therefore be interesting to see where the script and, more importantly, Çağatay's performance takes Hakan in season two.
Given Çağatay's well-known acting abilities, it is perhaps unfortunate that thus far "The Protector" has restricted the in-depth representation of Hakan's internal turmoil. Simultaneously losing a father, discovering his superpowers, falling in love, learning about a tragically lost family, integrating into the well-established "Loyals" community, facing terrifying immortal creatures, and fighting for his life at every turn would drive even the strongest being to madness. And yet, thus far the viewer only got rare glimpses into Hakan's emotions. Case in point is the romance between Hakan and Leyla, which “The Protector” unfortunately depicts as a shallow tryst.
Largely missing is the protracted courtship phase that gives most dizi viewers butterflies. We are left to wonder what in the world these two characters have in common besides a strong physical attraction. This is why, when Hakan eventually tells Leyla that he loves her, the declaration comes across as both unrealistic and superficial. Perhaps, just as Içerde before it, "The Protector" offers very little romance by design, preferring to focus on other aspects of the story. However, the slow-burning attraction that is building between Hakan and Zeynep leaves room for hope. In between action scenes and mythological puzzle solving, the remaining seasons may yet deliver the epic love story that most viewers of Turkish TV series are thoroughly addicted to.
Looking at Çağatay's decision to take the role in "The Protector", his career appears to be a succession of very smart choices. After brilliantly stumbling into the profession with Adını Feriha Koydum and Anadolu Kartalları, he carefully selected roles that progressively broadened his acting repertoire. Medcezir showcased Çağatay as a vulnerable romantic hero with surprisingly outstanding musical credentials. Delibal offered a challenging and wide-ranging role, in which he evolved from happy-go-lucky, artistically gifted college student into a severely disturbed mental patient. In Içerde, Çağatay forsook his musical abilities to deliver an extraordinary performance of uncommon depth and nuance, in which unspeakable tragedy and spectacular fight scenes alternated with thoroughly enjoyable comedic interludes.
Viewed in this context, "The Protector" may represent somewhat of a pause in Çağatay's professional growth. Indeed, a full-fledged musical, an intellectual comedy, an historical saga, and a gender-bending or evil-type role would have constituted more logical extensions of his acting repertoire. And yet, in taking on the role of Hakan, Çağatay wisely seized the opportunity to make himself known to a global audience -- a first for a Turkish actor. In conclusion, even if "The Protector's" remaining seasons may not push his acting skills to the limit, the whole world is now Çağatay's oyster. As soon as an internationally acclaimed director looks carefully into his acting portfolio, he will become a strong player on the international stage, following in the footsteps of Antonio Banderas, Gael Garcia Bernal, Christoph Waltz, Javier Bardem and other non-English native speaking actors.
@Copyright by North America TEN and Paola Cesarini
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